Expat Life: 13 Ways to Drive Yourself Nuts

by missfootloose on July 20, 2014 · 16 comments

in adventure, Expat life, France, living abroad

1.  You decide you’re going to move to another foreign country just because you want to, not because of work. You’ll do this without the support of a company. On your own, with your man. OMG! The country you ask? France.

2.  You go house hunting in a foreign language. This is not for the shy, the meek, or the sane. The French real estate business does not work with a multiple listing system. You drop in at every real estate agency office you can find and ask them what they have on offer. No, not everything is listed on the Internet. It is a major cultural experience to see the inside of houses in a foreign country, but that’s another post.

How charming! Such potential!  No, we didn’t really go check this one out.

You see 28 houses and you don’t like them for one reason or another. By now your spouse has had his fill of the search and is giving up, and you lie awake wondering if you are crazy wanting to do this. You have a perfectly nice little house in America. Everything works, functions and is practical.

You put a contract on French house number 29. Okay, the living room is small; the toilets are not in the bathrooms, but in separate WCs; the guestroom is off the garage; there is no air-conditioning. But! It has a great terrace, a lovely little garden, a pool, and it’s in a friendly village dating from the Middle Ages. You will love it there!

3.  You go back to the US and put your house up for sale. Now you have to empty it, sort through the basement, the garage, the closets and shelves and drawers of accumulated junk you once thought was fabulous or valuable.

Expat letters

Like a package of letters from a Dutch boyfriend who wrote you faithfully for the entire year you spent as a foreign exchange student in the USA. (After you came back to your native Holland, he broke it off because you had changed. Go figure.)

4.  You read every page of your angst-ridden, teenage journals before throwing them out. No, yours are not an interesting, cultural/historical document for the next generation, and since they were written in Dutch the American grand kids won’t be able to read them even if they wanted to.

5.  You spend hours going through boxes of old photo albums with discolored pictures. Who are these people? Why should you keep them? The kids won’t care. Take out the ones you want to keep. Promise yourself you’ll scan them in later and have a record. Really, will you ever do that? You’ll be in France, visiting wineries, sitting on terraces with friends, hiking in the mountains, strolling through the markets, checking out all the many funky cheeses.

6.  You wonder what to do with a dinner set of 70 Chinese dishes you bought in Hong Kong, had them shipped to the US and used once in twenty five years.

Chinese dishes

You put them up for sale online on Craigslist (like Marktplaats in Holland or LeBonCoin in France) and nobody wants them.

7.  You make several exhausting trips to the French consular office to sort out your legal requirements and documents needed. You get conflicting information. The web site says one thing, the irritable consulate officer says another. What to do? What if they throw your husband out of France? You have a EU passport, and are allowed the stay as long as you want, but really you want your American prince by your side.

8.  You get a letter from your editor saying the team has finally worked over your 400 page manuscript and please check out all the suggestions, comments, changes and so forth. (Accept, edit, comment, fix in track changes, please.) Just what you need while your mind is busy with Chinese dishes and unfriendly consular officers.


And here it is, just out as an e-book. Click on cover picture for more information.

9.  You find out how much it costs to ship your earthly goods across the ocean. OMG! Of course you checked out how much it would cost to simply buy a houseful of furniture again in France, thinking it’s crazy to ship IKEA marvels over  to Europe when there’s an IKEA an hour away from your new village. Trust me, shipping is cheaper.

10.  You lie awake at night thinking about stupid stuff, worrying. Why can’t you be more minimalistic and throw out more stuff? Nobody wants to buy your house, nobody wants to buy your Chinese dishes. What if moving to France is a mistake? What about finding new doctors? A plumber? A new hairdresser? What about the fact that you only speak the most basic fractured French? What’s wrong with just staying put in your American house with your American doctors and your American supermarket and everything comfortable and familiar?

11.  You watch the moving truck leave with all your possessions. You are sleeping on an air mattress in an virtually empty house, the house nobody wants to buy. The house looks at you, feeling hurt, feeling abandoned. You can feel it as you wander around its empty rooms. Guilt creeps through you.

12.  You get on a plane to France. A week later the last of 79  signatures has been put on paper and the French house is yours, empty, but you have inherited Daphne the Greek nymph by the pool. You’ve bought another air mattress at the BUT store (BUT, really!) and now you are sleeping again in an empty house with four forks, two plastic chairs, a cork screw and another few odds and ends. Oh, and Daphne by the pool.


13.  You are bleeding money. A car, a bed and mattress, a TV, a dryer, a multitude of smaller things: a fly swatter, extension cords, doormats, a telephone, wine glasses…

Thirteen? Did I say thirteen? What an optimist I am! However, rest assured, I will not traumatize you with all the other ways I have managed to drive myself crazy over the last months. (And now I have moved from second person viewpoint to first, and my editor would say I’m not allowed to do that, but she won’t see this.)

I am in France, drinking wine, sitting outside on my terrace, writing this. I live here, in this little house, in this ancient village amid the vineyards in the South of France. How crazy is this?

French village

* * *

Oh, do tell me what drives you crazy!

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I’ve just found your blog! Hello!

I loved this. How very exciting! I’ve worked abroad in a couple of countries so far but always the company have sorted out the accommodation… your new house in France makes me drooool, I love it! I’m currently boxed up in a studio flat (1 small room with sink, 1 gas burner, fridge, sofa bed, en-suite with a shower that has no hot water) but I’m in the middle of the Indian Ocean in Maldives! Can’t complain! What kinds of jobs do you do abroad or are you a full time writer now?

I’d wondered where you’d gone!

Moving house is hell.

After we sold our family home last year, I had to pack up / give away / sell 40 years [plus] of stuff my parents had collected, then move me to an apartment.

I was exhausted, no wonder I got ill.

Your move looks as though it’s worth it though!

I can’t wait to see your pics and read your tales.

Itchy feet!!! Did you ever sell those dishes?

Oh why, but why aren’t we ever happy living where we were born, or grew up? Very brave to move to a country where you don’t speak the language. We lived in Germany for almost 6 years, but due to husband’s work, but I wouldn’t like to settle there, it was tough learning the language. My daughter and son in law moved from the south of France to Amsterdam for work and she also says she had to visit various real- estate agencies as they don’t share listings, they finally bought an apartment recently after she saw 40 places!! I… Read more »

hi karen Yeh I know that kind of nuts It reminds me of when we emigrated to NZ. I said in the beginning “what was I thinking” Now I wouldn’t go back for anything Love it.
The village and especially daphne at the pool looks absolutely gorgeous
It sounds so romantic. I have a cousin living in France He loves it
I also love the French language and French music
Enjoy and au revoir and congrats whith your e-book

Hi K,

I am so excited to read this. It seems like an excellent plan to me and I’ve done it several times myself. The transition and squatting in empty houses is no fun but I’m sure you’ll accumulate plenty more crap soon soon 🙂

And best of all you got rid of that chinese dinner service. Well, I hope you did! I’m laughing about that as my mum bought one in china too and says she’s leaving it to me in her will!! No idea what I did to deserve that 😉

Yep, that does sound like it would drive me crazy. And if not me, then my husband, and that’s even worse. But, you got Daphne! That alone might be worth it? If not then just sitting on your new patio sipping wine. Sounds heavenly.
My husband speaks of retiring elsewhere some day, and I almost cringe when he says that. Because nothing could induce me to move again, at this point. Voluntarily moving after 6 times involuntarily, I don’t know… Maybe one day:-)

Good to have you back in the blogging world – you’ve been busy!


Did you sell the dishes? They are beautiful and I know someone who might be interested. How much are you asking?

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